A Brief Historical Account of Formal Education in Eritrea
By Eyob Kidane, 30 Nov 2004    


Educational reforms and developments are taking place all over the world and in both the developed and developing countries, primarily because of the impact of globalisation, technological advancements, pressures from educational professionals as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Aid Agencies. These reforms and developments that are being carried out include but are not limited to reforms in elementary, middle and secondary general education, reforms in higher education, developments in vocational and technical skill training, developments in literacy and adult education, issues relating to gender equality, developments in curriculum provision and modern teaching methodology, in teacher training education, in new approaches of planning, economics and finance of education as well as the implementation of business administration, quality management systems and health and safety management systems in educational establishments.  

Eritrea has been engaged in educational reforms since 2002, however, before discussing educational reforms and developments in Eritrea, it’s imperative that the historical background of formal education in Eritrea is understood.  

Education is the process by which people acquire knowledge, skills, developments, attitudes and virtues and enhances the ability of people to use their natural skills and ingenuity. Education is also perceived as a means of raising political and social consciousness as well as of increasing the number of skilled workers and raising the quality and standard of trained manpower.  

Education is either formal or informal. Formal education is systematic, structured and planned instruction, usually offered by religious, educational and other institutions. The churches and mosques planted the first seeds of formal education in Eritrea. The first European explorers and missionaries have in deed confirmed that the Eritrean people were able to read and write in different languages before the scramble of Africa. 

Informal education is the earliest form of education with the family being the primary institute and agent of education. The societies and the general environments people live in also offer informal education.  In this kind of education, children were taught the various skills of cooking, childcare, washing and cleaning, brewing, sewing, farming skills, hunting and to supplement the household income with cottage arts & crafts. Additionally, children were also taught oral history, the art of telling folk stories, proverbs and songs. 


The churches and mosques planted the first seeds of formal education in Eritrea. When we closely look into the historical background of education in Eritrea, it had the religious education which was heavily religious-oriented whether Christian or Islamic. 

A.             Christian Education:  

For centuries, church education was the only source of formal education for the Christians in Eritrea. For centuries, its central purpose has been to prepare a clerical class highly proficient in Biblical interpretation and religious doctrine, adopt in the shaping of exceptionally sophisticated poetry, in reproducing church music and in performing traditional religious dance. In other words, like church education in Christendom, it was designed primarily for the training in the priesthood, but served also to diffuse and preserve all aspects of Christian culture.

Generally, children went to two essentially different types of church schools, the first, which may be considered as elementary schools, were small village establishments, usually run by a single priest and the second, which were fewer in number, were larger and academically more advanced, institutions where a number of teachers who were either priests or monks specialised in different subjects. 

Village schools, concerned largely with the reading, and memorisation, of the Psalms and lessons were generally carried out within the church compound or within the residence of the priest. 

Until the present decade, church schools were responsible for giving many children the opportunity to learn letters, now the task of the modern school system i.e. ‘learning to read’ is the school of reading in which children learn ‘Geez alphabet’ instruction. The Geez language consists of 34 letters with 7 forms each and 5 letters with 5 forms each. The methods of instruction applied by the Orthodox Church include Readings writing and memorization. So many men within their communities successfully completed their courses in different clergy hierarchies and graduated as Deacons, Halekas and Keshies. 

Traditionally, however women were not encouraged to get education among Christian communities in Eritrea 

B.        Islamic Education: 

Islam reached Eritrea across the Red Sea during the initial stages of the spread of this religion and was introduced to the Eritrean people by the early followers of the Prophet who sought refuge from persecution in Mecca. Hence Eritreans who resided along the Red Sea coast became the first Africans to accept Islam as their religion. 

The fist formal Islamic school was established in Eritrea by the Ottomans in Tewalet in 1870. Islamic education in Eritrea was the only source of formal education for Eritrean Muslims. The earliest forms of Islamic schools in Eritrea were known as the Katatib or Khalwah and were established both in the urban and rural areas. Khalwah is a place usually inside Mosques that provide good environment for pupils to memorise the Holy Quran and to learn the basic principles of Islam. Mosques always play a crucial role in the teaching and learning of Islam education as well as how to perform prayers and enhance the pupils Islamic knowledge. These institutions mainly taught the Holy Quran and the other foundations of Islam. These Quranic schools gradually evolved and developed into Islamic Institutes known as Ma’ahed that have similar organisational structure and design to the modern schools.

The function of Koran-oriented education was primarily to produce people who are well aquatinted with the basic principles of Islam. The study of Koran was, therefore, an essential starting point. The schools also provide basic and advanced Arabic grammar, higher levels of interpretation of Islamic religion, basic and advanced arithmetic, history and hygiene. The purpose of Islamic education was to teach Muslim children about the culture heritage and brotherhood of Islam. Similar to church schools, the methods of learning were primarily based on listening reading oral recitation and memorization. 

The teaching methodology practised though differs from one teacher to another was generally a teacher directed method. The Teachers would sit on a mat in front of the classroom and facing the pupils. The teachers dictate some of the verses to the pupils who would write on their Louh, a wooden tablet. The pupils must memorise the verses very well and recite them to their teacher and the pupils without making any errors before advancing to the more advance stage. Where the pupils fail to memorise the verses correctly, they are forced to repeat the same verses until they get them right. 

The pupils have to undergo through several stages depending on their abilities starting with the beginners who start to learn the Arabic alphabets and gradually Arabic words. The next stage is where the pupils start to learn how construct sentences using few words. The third stage is where the pupils would learn how to make longer and compound sentences. After this stage, the pupils start to learn the first chapter of the Holy Quran and with strict supervision from the Quranic teachers they write the sentences on their Louh.

So many men within their communities successfully completed their courses in different clergy hierarchies and graduated as Shieks and following vast experiences were recognised and promoted to Quadies and Mufties. 

Traditionally, however women were not encouraged to get education among Muslim communities in Eritrea. The Islamic education system was however the main agent for the expansion of education among the Muslim population in rural and urban areas of Eritrea.  


A.     Education Offered by European Missionaries 

The early Catholic missionaries De Jacobis first introduced Eritreans to the European style formal and modern education in 1839. The Swedish Evangelical Missionary Society as well as the True Friends of the Bible fertilised the early seeds of formal education and introduced practical subjects like woodwork and metalwork as well as in the languages of Tigre, Tigrinya and Kunama. 

The first Swedish Evangelical missionaries arrived in Eritrea in 1866. They initially started to preach Christianity in the highlands and lowlands of Eritrea. However, they encountered resistance from the locals and were forced to move and establish themselves in the Gash Barka region where they taught the Kunama people. They further encountered more fierce resistance and as a result three of their eleven missionaries were killed. Once again they were forced to move from the area and this time they travelled towards the coast all the way to the Massawa area in a place called Menkulu. It was in this area that they first established a clinic, a school and a printing. These institutions rendered their services to the region including Ethiopia. 

Furthermore, the Catholic Lazarists Missionaries opened the first school in Keren in 1872. This school had enrolled 500-day students and additional 158 boarding students of which 80 were boys and 78 of them were girls. Some of the subjects taught were languages, woodwork, metalwork, tailoring, agriculture and printing.  After Eritrea became an Italian colony in 1890, the Lazarist who were French citizen were forced to leave Eritrea in 1896 because France opposed the Italian colonial expansion in the region. 

The Swedish missionaries moved the school in Menkulu to Beleza in 1890 and taught subjects like Tigrinya, Italian, threading, textile and home economics. In 1889, a boys’ school was opened in Gheleb and a new girls school was later opened in Adi-weghri in 1890. Other schools soon opened in Asmara, Tse-Azegha, Keren, Gheleb, Kuluko, Awsa and Kunama area. A very small percentage of the school age population children were lucky to benefit from the Mission schools and by 1905, the total number of students in Eritrea were only 100. By 1920, these schools were able to enrol and offer education to about 1000 students at any given time.  By 1952 and after 86 years, 140 members of staff of the Swedish missionaries served in Eritrea. Sadly 35 of them died while working in Eritrea.  

The Italians forced the mission schools to close down in 1932 because the teachings of these schools were not compatible to the Italian education policy in Eritrea. The missionaries encountered resistance from the Italian colonisers and Italian religious leaders as well as the local population. 

It is to be noted that many of the missions have had an outstanding track record of running several schools and clinics across the width and breadth of Eritrea since their establishment. Their many schools and orphanages raised generations of citizens that have distinguished themselves as exemplars of personal character, integrity and civic virtue. Many products of these church schools are highly respected citizens in the professions and positions of leadership within Eritrea as well as in the Diaspora. 

B.                 Education During The Italian Colonial Era (1890-1941) 

Under the Italian colonisation, there was a dual system of education, one for the Eritreans and one for Italian nationals. The Italian schools were not open to Eritreans. Italians established the first colonial formal education schools in Eritrea after Eritrea became an Italian colony in 1890. The first schools for Italians only, were opened in 1896. There was only a very gradual opening up of education opportunity for Eritreans, beginning only after the World War I. Schooling was limited up to the fourth grade for Eritreans and schools were mainly funded by the Catholic Church. There were no schools opened in the rural areas and the few that were established were limited to the urban areas. The language of instruction used was mainly Italian, though the widely spoken languages of Tigrinya and Tigre were also used to help the newer students. It is reported that in 1923 there were only 523 Eritrean students enrolled in the country however, there was no planned and structured education system implemented during this era. 

The purpose of Italian education in Eritrea was clear and narrow. It was to indoctrinate the Eritreans with devotion for Italy and a respect for Italian culture and civilization. To be opened for Eritreans to become worthy elements of the native troops, interpreters, clerks, telephone operators and typists. Some of the textbooks used in schools also glorified the Italian way of life, culture and heroism of the Italian people. 

According to Trevaskis, a confidential memorandum circulated by the Italian Director of education in Eritrea and addressed to the then Italian Headmasters stated as follows: -

‘’By the end of his fourth year, the Eritrean student should be able to speak our language moderately well, he should know the four arithmetical operations within normal limits, he should be convinced propagandist of the principles of hygiene, and history, he should know only names of those who have made Italy great.’’ 

It is observed that in 1935, 2,472 students were enrolled. By 1939, the total number enrolled in Eritrea was 4,177 students. This shockingly small number of Eritrean students had further declined by 1941. Then there were only 16 schools in operation. There were 152 teachers in these schools including 33 Italian elementary school teachers, 86 nuns and 27 Eritrean assistants. The curriculum was later expanded to include history, geography, language, hygiene, and arts and crafts and by the end of the Italian colonial era there were about 25 schools in Eritrea. However, only one out of five students remained in these schools until the end of the school year and girls were not permitted to enrol schools for most of this era and until 1934. Even then, the schools only taught girls domestic skills and reinforced their household and spousal roles. 

C.            Education During The British Military Administration Era  (1941-1952): 

As there was no organised and structured education system for Eritreans during the Italian era, one of the fundamental measures taken by the British Military Administration was to establish and implement a new education system. 

In 1941, a new educational system was established in Eritrea and captain Kynaston Snell became the Director of Education and Mr. Isaac Teweldemedhine, an Eritrean who received his elementary school education at the Swedish Mission school, was appointed inspector of education. He had teaching experience before the Swedish Mission school was closed in 1932.

In 1942, the first Department of Education was established in Eritrea. The primary aim of the British education policy was to divide and rule Eritreans and force them into a wage economy. 

In December 1934, there were 19 elementary schools. Regarding the expansion of elementary schools in Eritrea, Allen (1953), stated that 19 schools which had been established in the first month of operation, however in December 1943, the number of schools had grown 28 with 50 instructors, and the enrolment of pupils were considerably increased (Allen, 1953; Teshome, 1974).

The British Administration based its educational system on a growing number of elementary schools throughout the country, with middle schools in centres of population. Indeed, during the British Military Administration schools were expanded rapidly and it was during this era that the first middle schools were established in Eritrea. In general, education during this period was limited to just the completion of middle school (up to grade 8). 

Furthermore, the first teachers training college was established in Asmara in 1943 and the first Eritrean Teachers were trained after completion of middle school in 8th grade. The British also sent three Eritrean teachers to Britain for further training at the Training Department of Edinburgh University. These Eritreans returned to Eritrea upon completion of their training with excellent grades. One of them became Principal of the Teachers Training College and the other two became Education Officers, supervising educational work in two of the provinces of Eritrea. 

During this era, Tigrinya for the Christians in the highlands and Arabic for the Muslims in the lowlands became the languages of instruction in elementary schools. Italian was replaced by English language as a subject at this level and was institutionalised as the language of instruction in middle and secondary schools. All three levels of general education that is elementary, middle and secondary were for four years each and the academic year was composed of three terms of roughly three months each. 

Mr. Isaac Teweldemedhin and other Eritreans took the initiative of producing textbooks written in Tigrinya, because there were no textbooks written in Tigrinya. According to Trevaskis (1960), Arabic textbooks for Eritrean elementary schools were obtained from Egypt and the Sudan. 

By 1947, the first middle school was opened with 115 students; there were 59 elementary schools in Eritrea with 4,906 students and 151 staff. In 1949, there were 5 middle schools in all the main districts with 504 students. The enrolment in middle schools increased from 504 in 1949 to 862 in 1950, an increase of 71 %. The first 7 Eritrean students were sent to Khartoum for secondary education. By 1950, there were 85 primary schools with total enrolment of 9,131, with 210 staff and 7 middle schools with 862 students.  During this era, elementary school pupils population increased by 380 % from 2,405 to 9,131. 

The British education system tried to abolish the ‘’all-age’’ school admission and tried to standardise and introduced a statutory school age of five and enrol middle schools by the age of eleven. During this era the number of girls enrolling schools significantly increased. In most schools, special lessons were allocated for girls that included sewing, dressmaking and other activities that were considered at the time only suitable for girls.  

D.             Education During The Federal Era (1952-62): 

During the Federation with Ethiopia, the establishment of schools and progress of education was maintained. In addition to elementary and middle schools, 2 new secondary schools, a technical school (Asmera Teghbar-Id), and a nursing college were opened. Furthermore, the Missionary Congregation Pie Madri Della Nigrizia of Verona, Italy established the University of Asmara during this era on 20th December 1954. Asmara Technical school was established in 1954 at the then Italian Military Supply Depot Converted to technical school in cooperation with the US government under the Point Four programme, the present day Agency for International Aid affiliated with the Department of State. The Nursing College was established on the Italian Military Hospital also with help of the US government. 

The education system practised was similar to that introduced by the British Administration. All three levels of general education (elementary, middle and secondary) were for four years each and the academic year was composed of three terms of about three months each. The language of instruction at elementary level was also Tigrinya in the highlands and Arabic in the lowlands as was during the British Administration era. English was taught as a subject in elementary schools and was maintained as the language of instruction from middle school up to higher education. For the first time in Eritrea, schools were opened in rural areas during this era and by the end of the Federal era in 1962, there were 145 elementary schools, 14 middle schools and 2 secondary schools nationwide. 

The Technical school accepted students after completion of 8th grade and offered four-year courses but the teachers training college offered one-year courses to those who completed 8th grade. The nursing course was for four years after completion of 12th grade.

By the mid 1950s, the Ethiopian government started interfering in the Eritrean education system particularly through the imposition of Amharic language as a subject in schools in 1958.

The standard of education and the standard of English as a second language were maintained. According to the information available, in the Haile Selassie -I and Prince Mekonen, together about 250 students were enrolled in 1956. Writing was considered an essential skill for academic success. But the high demands and expectations of Eritrean school children were not yet met. 

E.             Education During The Ethiopian Colonial Era (1962 - May 1991): 

As a result of Ethiopian annexation on 14 November 1962, Eritrean education system was merged into the Ethiopian education system. Elementary school education was increased from four to six years and Amharic was introduced as language of instruction. Both Tigrinya and Arabic were abolished. Eritrean elementary school children were denied the right to learn in Tigrinya and Arabic. Arabic and Tigrinya textbooks were abolished from schools and some of the textbooks were burned. Therefore, the use of Arabic and Tigrinya languages in regular academic settings was terminated. English, which was taught as a subject in elementary schools, continued to be taught as a subject up to the end of the 6th grade. Using English as a language of instruction started from seventh grade onwards and was likely to contribute to the decline of the standard of English language and education in general in Eritrean schools. 

Middle school was reduced from four to two years (7th to 8th grade) but English was maintained as the language of instruction and Amharic was taught as a subject. Secondary school remained unchanged for four years 9th to 12th grade with English as the language of instruction and Amharic also taught as a subject. Furthermore, the three terms per academic year was abolished and the two semesters per academic year was introduced. As from 1964 – 1991 national school examination were prepared on the completion of 6th, 8th and 12th grades. 

In 1964, it was reported that there were 200 elementary schools opened, enrolling over 42,000 students. There were also 7 secondary schools, with almost 19,000 students operating, with a small evening program, university extension and a Teachers Training College. There were also a surprising number of private schools and about 30,000 students enrolled in government schools. Despite the rapid growth in schools, accessibility to education was limited. 

After the annexation of Eritrea in 1962 and the formation of ELF in September 1961, the Haile Selassie regime with its scorch earth policy and mass killings in the Easter and Western Eritrean lowlands burnt villages including the schools and some schools were used as military camps. Tens of thousands of Eritrean people including students and teachers were uprooted from their villages and towns and forced to flee and seek refuge in the Sudan. 

The Derg pursued this barbaric policy in its worst manner and thousands of students and teachers were tortured and killed. Following the heavy and fierce fighting in areas surrounding Asmara in January 1975, the number of schools and students dramatically dropped. Many students were also massacred, mass imprisonment, detention, blockage of main roads, others were forced to serve in the military and some others were forced to leave their villages and towns either to join the liberation fronts or to seek refuge through out the world. 

By 1988, only 20% of the school age population were schooling in Eritrea. 

F.             Education in Liberated Areas During the Struggle For Independence 

i.                    Education offered by the ELF  

The contributions made by ELF in the field of education during the struggle for independence is also recognised. Though reference materials regarding the education policy and system are not available and the few ex-ELF freedom fighters in Diaspora and http://www.nharnet.com/ contacted were not able to assist with any information, thousands of Eritrean children including the author have become beneficiaries of the education offered by ELF during the struggle for independence in the librated areas. The ELF also had elementary schools for Eritrean refugees in the Sudan.  

Elementary education was for six years and both Tigrinya and Arabic were used as languages of instruction. The school the author attended in Tesseney in 1978 had two blocks of buildings and while those who chose Tigrinya as a language of instruction attended classrooms in one block of classrooms, those who chose Arabic as the language of instruction attended their classrooms in the second block of classrooms. Outside the classrooms, however, the pupils played together within the school compound and during lessons they each went to their respective blocks and classrooms to attend their lessons in their chosen language of instruction.

The ELF developed its own curriculum and also published numerous textbooks in various subjects and both in Arabic and Tigrinya. It is to be remembered that the Vatican Sponsored elementary schools for Eritrean Refugees in Kessala Sudan also used these textbooks published by ELF. The author remembers reading the earliest Tigrinya version of the famous book  ‘’Animal Farm’’ originally written by George Orwell in English.  It was in deed the academics of the ELF members who played a pivotal role in the establishment of the UNESCO sponsored middle and secondary schools for Eritrean refugees in the Sudan. 

ii.                  Education Offered by the EPLF 

During the liberation struggle and war for self-determination and independence, education had been at the forefront of social and political policies established by the EPLF to meet Eritrea’s needs in a subsequent era of peace, and independence.

Education was a top priority in the liberated areas and the process of schooling increased the literate population and provided a nucleus of experienced teachers to develop educational provision in the post-independence Eritrea. 

The EPLF established a Department of Education in 1975 and the education policy during the liberation struggle was constantly evolved through a dialogue involving fighters, teachers and citizens. The EPLF clearly defined the objectives of education in its first Party Congress in 1977. These were as follows: -

·        Securing the development of industry, agriculture, and technology in order to improve the livelihood of the people,

·        Narrowing down and removing the gap in the levels of cultural development and

·        Promoting the national unity of the Eritrean people.


EPLF ‘s educational policy was centred on the strategies employed to achieve ‘’unity in diversity’’. 

The first revolutionary school in the liberated areas was established in 1976. Elementary school education was 1st to 5th grade and Tigrinya was the language of instruction. Middle school was from 6th to 7th grade and at this level; English was the language of instruction. In 1977, the first curriculum for both elementary and middle school was introduced in the Revolutionary schools. These schools offered free education to the freedom fighters’ children, the local population of the liberated areas and so many others who were forced to flee from their home villages and towns by the Derg and sought refuge in the EPLF liberated areas.  

The education system practised was thoroughly reviewed and later reformed in 1982. On this occasion, a new curriculum for adults and young adults was introduced and secondary school education was made available to the graduates of the middle school of the Revolutionary schools.  

The students of the Revolutionary schools played a pivotal role in educating adults during the literacy campaign in the liberated areas.  As a result of their active participation, more than 150,000 adults became beneficiaries of this literacy campaign. Furthermore, the Red Flowers took active participation in the economic and social life of the local population. These included helping in the local clinic and cultivation of the village communal farm. Both middle and secondary school students would go to the various workshops, laboratories and to the wards of the Central Hospital for work placements and to learn new skills. 

Against all the odds and in between the frequent battles, the freedom fighters also attended literacy and political science classes and within a short period of time, illiteracy within the EPLF Army was totally eradicated. 

Girls and women participation in education radically changed in Eritrea during the liberation struggle as a result of the EPLF’s educational policy of equal opportunity.

The EPLF fostered the greatest change in women’s education and the crucial roles they played in the struggle for liberation and independence.

The EPLF recognised the need to include women in its struggle, and the role of education in mobilising them. By allowing women in its cadres and as active freedom fighters, the EPLF consequently raised women’s status in Eritrea. 

The EPLF also established the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) in November 1979. 25 years on and this grassroots organisation continues to work to change those factors that restrain women from full-fledge educational and economic participation. However, after independence, the old values continue to resurface restraining girls from full-fledged educational participation further complicating the NUEW’s work and its goals.  

Additionally, the EPLF established several schools in the Sudan for Eritrean refugees living in the cities towns like Kessala, Gedaref, Khartoum and other   refugee camps within Sudan. The teachers in Revolutionary schools in the Sudan were composed of both freedom fighters and volunteers working without pay. 

These schools offered free elementary education up to 5th grade using Tigrinya as a language of instruction. Some schools were later expanded to accommodate 6th grade students and English was the language of instruction at this level. The students pursued their middle and secondary education at the UNESCO sponsored junior and secondary schools in Kessala and Camboni schools in Port Sudan and Khartoum. 

Tens of thousand of Eritrean refugee children received free elementary education in these revolutionary schools in the Sudan. With the help of these schools, the Eritrean refugees in the Sudan gained the political awareness of the liberation struggle. The people were also organised into the various National Unions starting with the pupils that were known as Red Flower (Qeyahti Embaba), the youth and Students Union, Women’s Union (NUEW) and the Trade Union. These grassroots organisations played a crucial role in the liberation struggle and their participation was being increased every year up to and until independence of Eritrea. 

The EPLF had been able to hone the education system practised during the liberation struggle and after independence the provisional government of Eritrea introduced the education system practised in the Revolutionary schools and implemented with some degree of confidence and at some speed.

The EPLF had a very successful educational policy and system because of the vision and commitment of the front and in particular the teachers and those working for the Department of Education.

F.             Education During the first 12 years of Independence (1991-2002) 

The devastating 30 years of colonial war for independence was finally ended on May 24th 1991. The Provisional Government of Eritrea abolished the education system and curriculum that was being practised by the Derg and implemented the EPLF’s 1982 education system and curriculum that was being practised in the Revolutionary schools after carrying out some corrective actions and improvement measures to it. As the EPLF had been able to hone the education system practised during the liberation struggle and after independence the provisional government of Eritrea introduced the new education system practised in the Revolutionary schools and implemented with some degree of confidence and at some speed. 

Unfortunately, the problems did not end there. The economy and infrastructure had collapsed and social services including education and health had disintegrated. Its human resources development was greatly hampered during the struggle as its youth were persecuted and displaced. The quality of education had so much deteriorated that there was a crisis in the system. An illiteracy rate of over 80 per cent, a very low attainment level amongst students, and also amongst many teachers, an acute shortage of schools, a large number of schools badly damaged during the war, a depressed state of Eritrean culture and language among the nine groups have been inherited due to the imposition of Amharic language and culture inside and outside schools. 

The educational system in Eritrea shows all the symptoms of prolonged neglect under conditions of colonialism and war. At the time of independence in 1991, 84 per cent of the existing 190 schools were rated to be in serious disrepair. The remaining 16 per cent were far from providing a satisfactory learning environment. Disparity in the geographical distribution of schools was sharply marked. For instance, the number of secondary schools and students in the highlands was much higher than those in the lowland areas of Eritrea. 

Following Independence in 1991 Eritrea gave high priority to education, so that by 1998, more than 375, 000 students, or 40% of the school-age population, were enrolled in more than 829 government and non-government schools however, most of these schools need lot of improvement, expansion and/or replacement. 

The system of education practiced was 5 years elementary, two years middle and four years secondary school up to 2002. However, this education system has failed to deliver expectations of producing efficient and skilled manpower to the Eritrean economy. This is precisely why the GOE declared the introduction of the new curriculum and education system in 2002. This new education system was introduced in the academic year 2003/04. This system stipulates that nursery education is for two years for four and five year olds, elementary is for five years, middle school for three years 6th to 8th grade and secondary school for four years 9th to 12th grade.

These improvements are expected to make the new education system more flexible and profession oriented as well as minimise dropouts and wastage. 

The language of instruction used in nursery and elementary schools is mother tongue and all the nine national languages have been institutionalised in their respective regions. However, Tigrinya and Arabic are the language of instructions in the towns and cities where people of various nationalities live together in harmony and cohesion. English is the language of instruction from middle school up wards. 

In Eritrea, over the last 13 years, there has been a phenomenal increase in enrolment. The number of schools at all levels (Junior, Middle, Secondary and Technical) increased from 293 in 1990/91 to 829 in 1999/2000. During the same period students' population increased considerably from 208,168 to 431,508 while the numbers of teachers increased from 5,286 to 8,724. Eritrea has now one University, one Commercial College, one Teacher Training Institute (TTI), one Science and Technology College at Mai-Nefhi, a number of other Technical and Vocational Institutions (MOE, 1999-2000). 


Various successive colonial regimes ruled the whole of Eritrea for over a century. Each one of them had their own educational policy as well as social, political and economic policies that where meant to benefit them most and Eritreans least. The interests and basic human rights of the Eritrean people were secondary to their primary objectives of prolonging their time in Eritrea and subjugating the Eritrean people. However, the British unlike the Italians and Ethiopia introduced a modern education system, which institutionalised Tigrinya and Arabic as languages of instruction in elementary schools and allowed Eritreans to pursue their schooling into middle and secondary schools as well as higher education. Unfortunately through their divide and rule policy, the Eritrean people were divided into two groups, Christians in the highlands using Tigrinya and Muslims in the lowlands using Arabic as languages of instruction. 

However, after independence, the government of Eritrea embarked on a wide-ranging program designed to revitalise and develop the collapsed educational system. Further education has been set as the government’s priority. Because it has been realized that the educational system under the Derg regime was intentionally designed to reinforce the colonial ideologies and political machination. The GOE has long recognized education as a central element in development.  It is a vital input in modernization where Eritrea a developing country, began its drive for social and economic development since its independence. Moreover it has been recognised that through education the major Eritrean national development strategies could be achieved.

This strong conviction of the GOE together with the visible gains for individuals from education stimulated an unprecedented growth of enrolment in schools, colleges and university of Asmara. Substantial investment has been made in Eritrean education Sector for the last thirteen years of independence. The government of Eritrea recognises that the overall vision of Eritrea’s future progress is ultimately based on human capital formation, with the education and health as key inputs 


Girma Amare (1967) “The Aims and Purposes of Church Education”, Ethiopian Journal of Education, Vol.1, No,1. pp.1-4.

Allen, H.B. (1953) Rural Reconstruction in Action, New York: Cornell University Press.

Richard Pankhurst (1972) “Education in Ethiopia during the Italian Fascist Occupation: 1936-1941”, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, p.372.

Richard Pankhurst (1972) “Education Language and History: A Historical Background to Post –war Ethiopia”, Ethiopian Journal of Education, Vol.7, No,1.(June) p.94.

Ravinder Rena (2000) “Financing and Cost Recovery in Higher Education: A Study with Special Reference to Private Colleges in Andhra Pradesh”, Ph.D. thesis submitted to the Dept. of Economics, Osmania University, Hyderabad, India for the award of Doctor of Philosophy in Economics.

Taye Adane (1992) A Historical Survey of State Education in Eritrea, Asmara: Educational Materials Production and Distribution Agency (EMPDA).

Haile Bokure(1995) The Foundation of Eritrean Education: Integration or Innovation, USA

Yohanna Mahatem  

M.A. Salih ‘’Islamic Education in Eritrea’’ www.awate.com 2nd April 2004.                      

www.shaebia.org ‘’Shaebia Interview with the Minister of Education Osaman Saleh’’ 17th Sep. 2003.

Robert G. David, St Martin’s College, Lancaster, LA1 3JD, UK. International Journal of Educational Development 24 (2004) 437 - 450 ‘’Eritrean Voices, Indigenous Views on the development of the curriculum ten years after Independence’’. 

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Establish Health and Safety Management System in Educational Establishments
By Eyob Kidane, 30 Nov 2004  
2 % Girls and 98 % Boys 12th Grade Students in Sawa During 2003/2004
By Eyob Kidane, 01 Sep 2004 
Re-establish and Maintain Teachers’ Social and Economic Status in Eritrea
By Eyob Kidane, 27 Apr 2004  
Establish and Maintain Effective Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
By Eyob Kidane, 23 Mar 2004
Enhance Extracurricular Activities in Schools and Colleges, By Eyob Kidane, 12 Feb 2004
Universal Elementary School Education in Five Years   
By Kidane Eyob, 30 Jan 2004
Schools Vs Colleges - Striking the Right Balance
By Kidane Eyob, 20 Jan 2004
Flow Chart of a Modern Education System
By Eyob Kidane, 14 Jan 2004
Establish School Governing Bodies all over Eritrea
By Eyob Kidane, 06 Jan 2004
Introduce Ethics and Social Education as a Compulsory Subject in Schools
By Eyob Kidane, 23 Dec 2003
Review the Academic Calendar Year and School Hours, By Kidane Eyob, 16 Dec 2003
Reform the education system to 1. 6. 3. 4. 4, By Kidane Eyob, London, 24 Nov 2003
Reform the education system to 1. 6. 3. 4. 4, By Kidane Eyob, London, 15 September 2003...
Only 29 females out of 527 T.T.I. graduates, By Kidane Eyob, 26 Aug 2003
Sawa’s Warsay Yekealo Boarding school
Kidane Eyob, 05 Aug 2003
Reform the education system to 1. 6. 3. 4. 4
Kidane Eyob, London, posted on 09 June 2003
Reform the education system to 1. 6. 3. 4. 4, Part 5: By Kidane Eyob, London, June 2003
Reform The Education System to 1. 6. 3. 4. 4
By Kidane Eyob, London, posted on May 14, 2003
REFORM THE EDUCATION SYSTEM TO, By Kidane Eyob, London, April 17, 2003.
Reform The Education System to 1. 6. 3. 4. 4., Kidane Eyob, London, Posted on 26 March 2003
Reform The Education System to 1. 6. 3. 4. 4., Kidane Eyob, London, 18 March 2003

Kidane Eyob, who is solely responsible for the contents of this page, contributes the above article. For any comments, the writer can be contacted by e-mail:  kidaneyob@yahoo.co.uk